Abdo Shanan was born in Algeria to an Algerian mother and a Sudanese father. When he was nine, he moved with his family to Libya, where he would spend 18 years of his life convincing himself that he was Algerian, while his father kept insisting that he was Sudanese. At the age of 28, Shanan decided to make Algeria his home, and it was then that he began to question his idea of belonging.
“I began to feel like I was an island in the middle of a society with which I didn’t have as much in common as I thought I did.”—How is it possible for an island to exist in the middle of an ocean? Is it because the island’s dry soil is strong enough to impose itself against the water surrounding it, or is the ocean merely tolerating the presence and existence of the island? Or is it a relationship of compromise in which both sides renounce part of their claim to the other in order to co-exist?
Dry is about all the “islands” Shanan has encountered throughout the past years: Lamia, who had left Algeria for France at the age of six and had been visiting each summer until she reached adulthood and her relationship with Algerian society became more complex. Or M’mmar, who has been living in the diaspora for 45 years and who will only return to die and be buried in Algeria, “because it is good to die there.” With Dry, Abdo Shanan wants to make the viewers feel uncomfortable and uneasy. He wants us to doubt what we have been told about belonging and national identities—for what do these social constructs mean anyway?
Abdo Shanan was born in Algeria in 1982 and studied telecommunications engineering at the University of Sirte, Libya. Following an internship with the Paris-based agency Magnum Photos, he published his first story in the magazine Rukh. Since then, his photographs have been published in numerous print and online magazines and newspapers. He was nominated for the Magnum Foundation Emergency Fund in 2015, and in 2016 his photo series Diary:Exile was shown at the Addis Foto Fest in the Ethiopian capital. Last year, Abdo Shanan was awarded the CAP Prize for Contemporary African Photography for his ongoing project Dry and was selected for the World Press Photo Foundation’s Joop Swart Masterclass.